The question in the title of this post can’t always be answered.
This is not a book review, but I am taking the liberty to use The Goldfinch to make some of my points. I’m only a little more than halfway finished with this book and I usually don’t look at other reviews until I have completed the book and written my own review when I do book reviews for indie authors. I did read some of the reviews for this book when I approached the halfway mark, because I wasn’t certain I wanted to continue. I have mixed feelings. It’s well-written, and then it’s not. I’ll try to explain.
I read across many genres, and seldom post book reviews for traditionally published books. Gone Girl, The Girl of the Train, Fifty Shades, The Fault in Our Stars and other such reads, have garnered so much attention I feel less compelled to promote them. I mostly provide reviews to promote Indies that I feel I can recommend.
I’ve brought up the issue of commercial fiction versus literary fiction before. I know there are some authors who cross-over exceptionally well and have become quite popular up-market authors.
Annie Neugebauer has a nifty article here explaining the differences and providing some examples:
Her key points (which are debatable) are as follows:
The aim of commercial fiction is entertainment.
The aim of literary fiction is art.
In commercial fiction, the protagonist does the work.
In literary fiction, the reader does the work.
In commercial fiction, the writing style is clean and pared-down.
In literary fiction, the writing style takes more risks.
The main character of commercial fiction aims to be likable to the reader.
The main character of literary fiction aims to reveal the human condition.
Commercial fiction follows genre precepts.
Literary fiction toys with genre precepts.
Granted, there is commercial genre fiction that has aspects of literary fiction, and literary fiction which has aspects of commercial genre appeal, but I think Annie does well to summarize these.
A side note here from SoIReadThisBookToday : http://soireadthisbooktoday.com/2015/02/07/they-are-watching-what-you-read/ Is that much of what is marketed and sold digitally actually isn’t read in the digital form of the most popular books. “With Gone Girl, the third most purchased book at Kobo, only 46 percent of the readers who purchased the book made it to the end. Fifty Shades of Gray? Only 48 percent could stomach it all the way through. The most popular French book, in terms of sales, shows “Le Suicide Français,” may have been a runaway hit in terms of sales, but just 7 percent of Kobo’s French readers made it through the book’s conclusion.”
That tells me that just because a book is trendy, doesn’t mean it was all that well received by the audience.
This doesn’t take into account paper copies sold. I’m still not sure about reviews. Seems like people who really love a book or really hate it are most likely to leave a review. Of course the trendier books will have more positive reviews.
Which brings me back to The Goldfinch, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
(19,812) Total reviews on Amazon
3.7 out of 5 stars
Now this book stayed on the Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers list for months last year. (Long before it became a Pulitzer Prize.) There are reviews posted everywhere. There are even full length books being sold that analyze this piece of work.
It does seem to be one of those books that crosses over to up-market fiction.
Both the reader and the protagonist have to do some of the work.
The writing style is certainly risky.
There is a great focus on the human condition.
And it does follow genre precepts (primarily mystery novel).
Here’s the deal though: It is the very thing that editors are telling us all the time simply doesn’t work.
Apparently it does.
It is also 755 pages long.
As part of her Indie Authors Series , Jodie Renner tells us: How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% – and tighten your story without losing any of the good stuff!
Is your manuscript too long?
- Do you have a meandering, overly wordy writing style? If so, you’ll need to tighten it up by cutting all unnecessary words.
- Do you have long descriptions of the setting or characters, or lengthy character backstory?
- Are there any scenes that drag, lack in tension and intrigue, or just don’t drive the story forward?
- Have you or others noticed repetitions of various kinds (imagery, plot points, ideas, descriptions, phrases, words)?
- In general, can your scenes, paragraphs and sentences be leaner?
She goes on to say that you have to “earn your right to write long”. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I think it is more a matter of style and what the reader prefers.
Most genre commercial fiction and much of what I read that was written by indie authors follows Jodie’s points. These, for the most part, are easy reads. They appeal to a modern audience that wants fast everything. But if you are looking for deeply thought-provoking literature, you are probably not going to find it in a pared down version of a story.
The Goldfinch is reminiscent of the greatest literature I have ever read. Jodie Renner, as an editor, would have had a field day with it. And, yet, I see her points. The Goldfinch could have probably been cut of a good 250 to 300 pages and been a much tighter, more readable novel without loosing either that value of the prose or content of the story.
I am having a Love:Hate relationship with this book. I hope I am able to finish it.
Donna Tartt is inspired by magic, beauty in the everyday, and love…no matter what. The Goldfinch is infused with adventure, love of life, and great souls. There are wonderful passages of clever, artful prose. It appeals to my heart, spirit, and mind.
However, there is stream of consciousness that meanders all over the pages, often not making any point at all relevant to the crux of the story being told. There are miles-long sentences filled with colons, semi-colons, multiple commas that drag through entire paragraphs and will make you cringe and scream. I would like to think there is some masterful symbolism here, but it’s buried deep.
I’m 100% positive that she had to have an exclusive editor that could deeply appreciate her prose.
It all boils down to what audience you are appealing to as an author.
Do you ever really know?
I’ll keep writing my genre fiction crime novel series and maintain that bare bones writing style, but I’m not giving up on my philosophical, artful prose just yet. Maybe with enough practice in both styles, I’ll someday be a popular cross over, up-market author. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s fun to dream.
I don’t envy the parts of The Goldfinch that make me cringe and want to scream, but I do admire that Donna Tartt had the guts to write until her heart was content and put it out here for a reader audience to enjoy.